Should You Wear Socks with Climbing Shoes? The Pros and Cons

Wearing socks with climbing shoes is a hotly debated topic among climbers. Some swear by the benefits of wearing socks, while others prefer the barefoot approach. In this article, I’ll explore the pros and cons of wearing socks with climbing shoes, drawing from my own experiences and insights. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of whether socks are right for you and your climbing style.

Benefits of Wearing Socks with Climbing Shoes

In my experience, wearing socks with climbing shoes can offer several benefits. First and foremost, socks can help reduce chafing and discomfort, especially when breaking in new shoes. The extra layer of fabric helps prevent blisters and hot spots, making the break-in process more bearable.

Socks can also help absorb moisture and sweat, keeping your feet dryer and more comfortable during long climbing sessions. This is particularly important for maintaining foot hygiene and reducing the risk of fungal infections.

Furthermore, wearing socks can provide added comfort and cushioning, particularly at pressure points like the heel and toe box. This extra padding can help reduce discomfort and fatigue, allowing you to climb longer and harder.

“I always wear socks with my climbing shoes, especially when I’m breaking in a new pair. The added comfort and blister prevention are well worth it, in my opinion.” – Jeremiah Quackenbush, professional climber and coach

Drawbacks of Wearing Socks with Climbing Shoes

While wearing socks offers several benefits, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. One of the main concerns is reduced foot sensitivity. When you wear socks, you may lose some of the direct contact and feedback between your foot and the shoe, which can impact your climbing performance.

Socks can also affect the fit of your climbing shoes. If you’ve sized your shoes to be worn barefoot, adding socks may make them feel tighter or less precise. This can be particularly problematic for more advanced climbers who rely on a snug, performance-oriented fit.

Additionally, some climbers simply prefer the feel of climbing barefoot. They enjoy the direct connection with the shoe and the rock, and find that socks interfere with this sensation.

Factors to Consider When Deciding on Socks

If you do decide to wear socks with your climbing shoes, there are several factors to consider. Sock thickness is one key variable. Thinner socks will provide less cushioning but more sensitivity, while thicker socks offer more padding but may compromise your feel for the footholds.

Sock material is another important consideration. Look for socks made from moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics like merino wool or synthetic blends. Avoid cotton socks, which tend to absorb sweat and can cause blisters.

Finally, make sure you choose socks that fit well and don’t bunch up or slide around inside your shoe. A good sock fit will help prevent hot spots and discomfort, allowing you to focus on your climbing.

Barefoot Climbing: When to Go Sockless

Despite the benefits of wearing socks, there are times when barefoot climbing may be preferable. If you’re working on a particularly challenging route that demands maximum foot sensitivity, going sockless can help you feel the nuances of the footholds more precisely.

Barefoot climbing can also be a good choice if you have very tight-fitting, high-performance shoes. In these cases, adding socks may compromise the shoe fit and negatively impact your climbing performance.

Ultimately, the decision to climb barefoot or with socks is a personal one. Experiment with both approaches and see what feels best for you and your climbing style.

In my opinion, the benefits of wearing socks with climbing shoes usually outweigh the drawbacks. The added comfort, blister prevention, and hygiene are well worth a slight reduction in sensitivity. However, I do occasionally climb barefoot when I’m working on a particularly delicate footwork sequence or wearing my most aggressive shoes.

Tips for Pairing Socks with Climbing Shoes

If you decide to wear socks with your climbing shoes, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Choose thin, moisture-wicking socks made from merino wool or synthetic materials
  • Make sure your socks fit well and don’t bunch up or slide around inside your shoe
  • Consider sizing your climbing shoes slightly larger to accommodate the added thickness of the socks
  • Experiment with different sock thicknesses and materials to find the combination that works best for you
Sock MaterialBenefits
Merino WoolMoisture-wicking, odor-resistant, soft and comfortable
Synthetic Blends (Polyester, Nylon)Quick-drying, durable, affordable
SilkLightweight, moisture-wicking, soft against skin

The Bottom Line: It’s a Personal Choice

In the end, whether or not to wear socks with your climbing shoes comes down to personal preference. There are valid arguments on both sides, and what works for one climber may not work for another.

If you’re new to climbing, I recommend starting with socks and seeing how they feel. As you gain more experience and develop your own climbing style, you can experiment with barefoot climbing and see if it improves your performance.

Remember, the most important thing is to find what works best for you and your climbing goals. Don’t be afraid to try different approaches and listen to your body. With time and practice, you’ll develop a sock strategy that supports your comfort, hygiene, and performance on the rock.

Photo of author

Gary Osbi